Join Jan Kabili for an in-depth discussion in this video Sharpening, part of Learning Lightroom 6 and Lightroom Classic CC 2015.
- The sharpening controls in the Develop module's detail panel are designed to compensate for the image softening that's inevitable in digital capture and RAW conversion. This kind of sharpening is known as capture sharpening. Capture sharpening in the Detail panel is probably not the only time you'll sharpen an image. When you export, or otherwise output a photo, it will get sharpened again using different controls, as we'll see later in the course when I take you through the export window. In between capture sharpening and output sharpening, you might do some additional creative sharpening using local adjustment tools like the Adjustment brush.
Keep that in mind as you choose sharpening settings in this first pass in the Detail panel, so that ultimately, the cumulative effect of capture, output, and creative sharpening doesn't over-sharpen your image. I'm working in the Detail panel, in the column on the right side of the Develop module, and I have the 1:1 preview open in that panel. I'm gonna set this small 1:1 preview to something in the image that's more like an edge than what we have here, since that's where the effect of sharpening is easiest to see.
I'll select this square icon, and then I'll move into the image and click to set the part of the photo that we see in the small preview. In addition to the small 1:1 preview, I like to zoom in to 1:1 view in the larger preview, as well. 1:1 view is critical when you're trying to evaluate image sharpness, or when you're moving the sharpening settings in the Detail panel. I'll click in the image to zoom to 1:1 view. For purposes of this movie, I'm actually going to zoom in even further because I want to make sure that you can see what sharpening does.
I'm going to open the column on the left, I'll go to the Navigator panel, and I'm going to choose 3:1 from this dropdown menu. I'll close the column on the left, and I'm going to pan up to this area of dark railings against a white background. I want you to see that area because those are high-contrast edges, and what Lightroom does when it sharpens, is looks for high-contrast edges like these where light and dark areas meet. Then, it brightens the bright side of the edges, and darkens the dark side of the edges.
To show you an exaggerated example of that effect, I'm going to go to the sharpening controls in the Detail panel, and I'm going to take the Amount slider, which controls the strength of sharpening, and drag it way over to the right, more than I normally would. I'm doing that so that, if you look closely, you can see that there is a white line along the outside of these high-contrast edges, and a dark line inside. Those are known as sharpening halos. It's these halos that create the illusion of sharpness by simply increasing contrast at image edges.
Let's take a look at the sliders in the sharpening section. We've already seen the Amount slider. What it does is controls the strength of the sharpening effect by varying the brightness and the darkness of the sharpening halos. The Amount slider works in tandem with the Radius slider. The Radius slider controls the width of those sharpening halos, so keep your eye on a sharpening halo, like this, as I drag the Radius slider way over to the right, more than I normally would. As I do, you'll see the sharpening halos move out from the edges and get wider.
That's a theoretical look at what sharpening does, and how the Amount and Radius sliders work. Now, let's talk more practically about how you really choose settings for these sliders. I'm going to zoom to 1:1 view by opening the Navigator panel again and clicking 1:1, and then I'll close the column on the left. When I'm working with the sharpening sliders, I often do start by dragging the Amount slider all the way over to the right so that I really can see the effect of the sharpening. Then, I take the Radius slider and set it, and then I'll go back to the Amount slider, and drag it back over toward the left.
I'll leave Amount where it is, and I'll go to the Radius slider. I'm usually pretty conservative about the Radius slider. If I double-click the Radius slider, it goes back to its default, which is 1. If I have more detail in a photo, I may go a little lower than this with the Radius slider. If I'm working with a photo, like a portrait, where I normally don't want to emphasize detail, I'll go with a slightly higher radius. In this case, I want to lower the radius a bit. Then I'll go up to the Amount slider, and I'll drag it back to the left until the amount of sharpening looks good to my eye.
This really is somewhat of a subjective decision. There's no right answer, and there's really no formula. There are two more sliders in the sharpening section of the Detail panel. The Detail slider and the Masking slider, both of which affect which parts of the image get the sharpening. The Detail slider affects which image edges are sharpened. A higher value on the Detail slider sharpens more fine edges, so you might drag to the right on a photo that has lots of detail, like this one. So, I'll do that.
A lower value on the Detail slider is more appropriate for portraits and other photos with smooth areas. If you want to see a mask view of which edges are getting sharpened, you can hold down the option key, that's the alt key on Windows, as you move that Detail slider. You can see, as I drag it over to the right, more fine detail is getting sharpened. As I drag to the left, less detail. The light parts of this gray mask represent the edges that will be sharpened. The Masking slider is used to protect areas from sharpening.
Imagine you had a landscape with a big, blue sky. You wouldn't want the sky to be sharpened because that would just sharpen digital noise. Or, if you had a portrait, you probably wouldn't want the model's skin to be sharpened. You can use the Masking slider for that. If I click and drag in this image, down here, I see some water that I probably don't want to sharpen. I'm actually going to zoom out to see the whole image as I drag the masking slider. I'll hold down the option key, that's the alt key on Windows as I drag the Masking slider to the right.
As I do, you see some parts of the image turning to black. Those black areas will be protected from my sharpening settings. I'm gonna drag to just about there to protect the smooth areas of water from sharpening. When I'm done moving the sharpening sliders, I'll usually, at 1:1 view, pan around the image to check other parts of the photo to make sure they're sharp, but not over-sharpened. Sometimes, I'll compare before and after views of all the settings in the Detail panel by clicking the toggle, up here.
But keep in mind that that will show you before settings for both the noise reduction and the sharpening controls. As you're sharpening, keep in mind that there are no exact formulas for sharpening, despite what you may have heard. Instead, try to use the principles that I've taught you here to set the sharpening controls to suit each photo, keeping in mind the fact that you'll be sharpening at least one more time when you output the photo.
- Understanding the Lightroom catalogs
- Importing photos from multiple sources
- Organizing photos in the Library module
- Reviewing and rating photos
- Creating collections
- Tagging faces
- Making basic corrections in the Develop module
- Making local photo edits with the adjustment tools
- Stitching together panoramas
- Fixing perspective
- Converting to black and white
- Printing and exporting edited photos
- Fixing missing photos